by Tena Starr
I retired as the Chronicle’s editor about a month ago, and, apparently, I’ve become a lot dumber since. They say one must keep busy or the brain, and body, atrophy.
I felt busy enough — watching grandchildren, hanging out with parents, friends, Steve, baking pies, painting (no artist here, I’m talking about walls and boards), gardening, fending off efforts to enlist me in volunteer projects, working on home improvements…
But I am obviously wrong. It seems a person’s brain, especially a woman’s, can go straight to hell in a hurry.
The first indication was a phone call. The caller, who had a heavy Indian accent, told me that my computer had urgent problems he would help me resolve. (Sigh. This one is so old you’d think they would have given it up by now, but he had a new take.)
I said, “No, I don’t think so; my computer is working fine. I was just using it, and I didn’t notice anything amiss.”
“No, ma’am,” he said. “It isn’t working fine. It has a serious problem.”
“What is it?” I asked.
He got right to the point.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but you are too dumb about computers for me to explain it to you. You should go to your computer now and do as I say.”
Me: “I’m actually fairly computer savvy, and I haven’t noticed a thing wrong with it.”
Him: “Yes, ma’am, as I said, that’s because you’re too dumb, or you would know it has a problem.”
I pressed on. “Could you give me a hint, you know, about what that problem is?”
“No, ma’am. As I said, if you were not stupid about computers, you would see that you have a problem. It’s because you are stupid that you don’t see it.”
“Ah, so, you’re saying that I’m too dumb to recognize that my computer isn’t working,” I said.
“Yes, ma’am, that’s exactly what I’m saying. You’re too dumb to see what’s happened with your computer, and you must listen to me now.”
Well, that’s harsh. My refusal to even acknowledge a problem, much less accept his help, was obviously proof that I know so little about computers that I couldn’t even recognize my dire situation.
In the end, I conceded that I might not know as much about computers as he does, but I don’t respond that well to either orders, or being told how dumb I am. It’s just not a great conversation starter, at least not one likely to get cooperation. Though that, too, could be further indication of diminished capacity, possibly dementia, a state of delusion… any number of things.
We parted ways after I suggested that his telephone manner could use some work. My computer is still functioning.
The second sign of my recent diminished mental capacity came when I hired a crew of painters and carpenters to renovate my house. One fellow, charged with replacing rotten, or ancient, clapboards, repeatedly said, “See this clapboard? See how it’s rotten? Here, let me show you.” And he’d pull off a chunk of rotten clapboard with his fingers. “That should be replaced. Do you understand what I mean?”
Well, I thought I did. Since he was hired to replace rotten clapboards, I kind of assumed he’d replace rotten clapboards. But it’s possible that, like with the computer guy, I don’t know the complexities involved and need an explanation several times a day — as well as a check-in that I’ve got it. Because it’s clear that a lot needs to be explained, and often.
I’ve had other complicated matters, like how to paint a clapboard, well explained to me. Followed by: “You understand what I mean?”
I’ve been painting since I was eight years old and my father insisted on painting everything — fence posts, the 100-foot barn, inside and out — seemingly all the time. And he was a stickler. So, I thought I knew how to paint a clapboard. How hard can it be?
And then, to top it all off, as we were cleaning up from a small party here, my dear partner handed me an empty pizza box. “You could put this in the wood stove, or you could put this in the fire ring for the next fire,” he said.
“Thank you so much, hon, for explaining what to do with an empty pizza box,” I said. “I can’t imagine what I’d have done with it without your help.”
A friend said, “Good thing you love him, or you might have suggested some other things that could be done with a pizza box.”
Geez. I used to know if my computer was working or not. I used to know how to run the editorial department of a newspaper, write complicated stories, and discuss legal issues.
Now, I don’t even know what to do with a used pizza box or how to paint a board. Retirement has clearly done a number on me.
All I can say, is thank goodness for these men in my life, who are being so helpful in walking me through this new phase. Understand what I mean?